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Self-paced SAT Prep: Pros and Cons

sat-self-studyIn a previous article, we discussed the three main options to choose from when preparing for the SAT exam: self study, 1-1 tutoring, and group classes. In this post, we take a deeper look at self-paced SAT prep courses specifically, the niche’s top providers, pros and cons, and how to make the most of your experience should you decide to take one of these courses.  

Overview of a typical self-paced SAT prep program

This method of studying combines the flexible and individual nature of self-study with some of the structure and guidance that comes with group classes. Although each program offering is a little different, almost all include a library of practice exercises, questions, and exams to work through. It is up to you to create a schedule and determine what aspects of the test you’ll work on and when you’ll take practice exams to measure progress. But the relevant materials are given to you. Most prep programs limit access to 6 months or 1 year, so you need to have a solid idea of when you’ll be taking the exam and how much time you’ll need to prepare, as well as being realistic about the hours you’ll be able to allocate to studying every week. We’ve done some of the necessary research for you below, comparing and contrasting the top providers of self-paced SAT prep programs.

We believe that pairing a self-paced SAT course with a private SAT tutor is one of the most effective and efficient ways to improve your SAT score. You get some structure and lots of practice through the self-paced course, but then you get the highly personalized instruction that is the hallmark of private tutoring.

Free Self-Paced SAT Prep

Kahn Academy - when it comes to self-paced private SAT prep, there really is not a strong argument for going anywhere but Kahn Academy. They are the clear leader in free self-paced SAT prep and their product can compete with all the paid options. They have the video lessons, practice SAT exams, and recommended study outlines that the paid options provide. One huge upside to Kahn Academy is that they use official SAT practice tests from the College Board.

Top Paid Providers of Self-Paced SAT Prep

Magoosh – This entirely online self-paced SAT program includes a large bank of practice questions with video explanations, video lessons, study schedules that you can customize to fit your timetable. They also have 7 day money-back and 100 point guarantees and offer email assistance to help if you’re struggling with the material. Costs range from $100 for 1 month to $129 for 12 months. There is a free trial option as well so you can experiment with practice questions and videos.

Prep Scholar – This program is more structured than a lot of its competitors.  You begin by taking a diagnostic test, spend the next eight hours watching video lessons, take a full-length practice exam, and then continue to prep based on your results. The diagnostic determines your exact skill level and builds your study plan from the results. PrepScholar tells you exactly what to study, when, and for how long, as well as when to take practice tests – taking out most of the guesswork of building your own study plan. Throughout the process, you’ll receive feedback and weekly reports. The program comes with a 160 point guarantee and costs $397 for 12 months.

Princeton Review – This is a well-known and traditional option that gives students access for up to 1 year for $249.00. The Princeton Review offers online videos, practice questions, and drills, as well as fifteen full length practice tests. Their ‘recommendation engine’ personalizes lesson plans based on each individual’s performance on questions and exams. It will also create a study plan based on your starting score, timeframe, and goals. They claim that, if you’re dissatisfied, they will let you repeat the program at no extra cost.

Kaplan – Kaplan charges $299.00 for 6 months’ access to their self-guided SAT prep course. You can try it free for 30 days, and the ‘package’ includes teacher-led instructional videos, performance analyses to keep track of your strengths and weaknesses, progress reports, 8 practice tests (but only 4 official College Board exams), and online quizzes and question banks.

Pros/Cons of Self-Paced Program

The pros of self-paced SAT programs:

  1. Flexible & convenient. You can study from the comfort of your home, library, etc. when it works for your schedule.
  2. The programs offer enough structure so that you don’t have to create your own study plan from scratch. Most self-paced programs are customized to your strengths and weaknesses based on computer analysis of your test scores & performance on practice problems.
  3. You can go at your own pace. Unlike a classroom or group setting, you can watch video tutorials, answer questions, and complete assignments as slowly or quickly as you need to. You can also re-watch or re-do videos and questions as necessary.
  4. Cheaper than 1-1 online or in-person preparation. In a lot of cases, self-paced prep is going to be less expensive than paying for a tutor.


  1. Less accountability. If you choose to go the self-paced route, you must be disciplined enough to maintain a schedule and commit to studying regularly so that you’re as prepared as possible by test day.
  2. Less support. Although many programs offer weekly coaching sessions and 24/7 online support you will not have the focused attention of a 1-1 tutor or classroom teaching telling you exactly what to do and when to do it.
  3. Sneaky score guarantees. Read the fine print; sometimes companies seem to promise a score increase or guarantee but it’s actually only for a few students who hit certain requirements.
  4. Requires self-diagnosis. Although programs have algorithms and coaches that help point out your particular strengths and weaknesses, to some extent you will still probably have to self-diagnose the areas you need to spend more time on and figure out why/how you’re getting the wrong answer on certain problems. Sometimes students end up focusing on test-taking tricks and strategies that actually won’t work for them.

How to Get the Most out of Self-Paced Study Programs

In order to see the most results from a self-paced online SAT program, self-motivation and dedication is key. Consider giving yourself small rewards often for conquering daily study tasks in order to build good habits and stay on track. Also, think about employing the Pomodoro Method, a productivity technique that many successful people swear by.

Consider supplementing your self-paced SAT journey with private tutoring. If you’re nervous about going through the material on your own, end up feeling lost or confused regarding specific topics or questions no matter how many times you watch a video or take practice tests, or find yourself lagging behind on your study schedule, it may be beneficial to supplement your prep with a private tutor. Although this will cost more money, it may end up making your initial investment so much more worthwhile. You want to avoid having to go through this process more than once, so if it means hiring an in-person or online private SAT tutor for additional support, this decision will most likely make the overall cost of SAT prep lower in the long run.

Perhaps most importantly, make sure you choose the right program for you and your needs. There are so many self-paced SAT study programs out there with their own features and ‘proven’ methods. Do your research and confirm you fully understand their guarantees (many offer a free trial period).